Mahoning County Children Services Board has placed its executive director, Denise Stewart, on a paid administrative suspension through Dec. 31, pending a CSB investigation.
It also has appointed Tony Paris, its chief supervisor and a 22-year county employee, as acting director until further notice, and it authorized the Rev. Lewis Macklin, board chairman, to seek an interim director.
The board took these actions in unanimous voice votes after a 90-minute executive session Friday afternoon on the eve of a four-day office holiday.
The special meeting occurred on short notice, with notifications not being issued until Friday morning. Stewart was on vacation, did not attend the meeting, and could not be reached for comment Friday night.
Stewart, a licensed social worker and counselor and a 38-year CSB employee, was appointed as the board’s executive director in July 1998.
She was instrumental in achieving the board’s long-awaited move of the child welfare agency from the county’s South Side Annex to its newly built quarters at 222 W. Federal St. in downtown Youngstown in 2005.
The Rev. Mr. Macklin would not be specific about the matter or matters being investigated.
“The board is taking a very proactive position relative to the organization to ensure that those we’re entrusted to serve, that their needs will be met,” he said.
Mr. Macklin said the 2009 resignation of caseworker Kim Vechiarelli, who gave a false statement to police concerning the case of Jimmy Higham, who was killed and dismembered in 2001, “was not the sole active factor,” in the board’s decision to suspend Stewart.
“It was current challenges that we wanted to address,” he said, without being specific.
As for the timing of the board’s decision, he said: “When we have to deal with an investigation, part of our responsibility is to remove the person from their position, and it happened to be today. ... We don’t operate based on the season. We operate based on the need of our children.”
Stewart currently has no contract as executive director, and the issue of a contract for her was tabled at a board meeting earlier this month and set for consideration at next month’s meeting, Mr. Macklin said.